'The Energy, It's Palpable': Killington's World Cup Brings Spectators, Business And New Residents
Upwards of 40,000 people are expected to attend the Audi FIS Women’s World Cup at Killington Mountain next week. This will be the fourth time the ski resort has hosted the international event, and many in town believe it has helped jumpstart the local economy.
Colorful banners touting the World Cup line the access road leading up to Killington’s main base lodges. Those banners blend with red white and blue "Open" flags that many restaurants and businesses are flying.
Jean Pierre DeFrancesco-Sias is general manager of Basin Sports, a store that caters to skiers and riders.
He said the World Cup has definitely created a buzz in town:
“I have a lot of people who come in, they may be regular customers, or first time to the building, and they ask, 'Oh, is that where Mikaela raced?’”
You can actually look through the store’s windows and see the snow-covered headwall where Mikaela Shiffrin and the world’s other leading women skiers go head-to-head.
“And of course I say, ‘Yeah, it’s one of the greatest spectacles in the world, a World Cup skiing event,'" DeFrancesco-Sias said. "The energy, it's palpable.”
And he believes that energy has boosted sales. In the last four years, he said revenues at the shop have increased 15%.
And while the upswing in the overall economy is definitely a factor in that, he and many others in Killington think the World Cup has acted like an economic turbo-boost.
“We see restaurants open year-round that were once shuttered in the summer," DeFrancesco-Sias said. "Ski shops are starting to be open longer hours. I'm seeing it in the town, and speaking to other business owners and other general managers, all of them feel the same thing as I do: that Killington is really on the rise.”
Killington town manager Chet Hagenbarth agrees.
“It does feel different," he said. "Home sales and condo sales are off the charts.”
In the last two years, real estate in town has been selling at 20-30% above assessed value, he said, and condos seem to go especially fast.
"There’s definitely an interest in the area that’s dramatically increased," Hagenbarth said.
This past year, Vacasa, a vacation rental property management company, ranked Killington second in its list of the 25 best towns for buying a vacation home. And some of those second home owners are choosing to live in Killington full time to raise their kids.
Mary Guggenberger is principal of Killington’s elementary school, and she said enrollment is way up.
“I’ve been here five years,” she said. “On average we have increased our population about 12 % each year.”
That’s in stark contrast to data indicating student enrollment statewide has declined by 5 % over the same five years.
Besides the strong economy and publicity surrounding the World Cup, locals say an even bigger reason for the town’s resurgence is the investment Killington has made in the mountain, both for winter and summer activities.
Killington President Mike Solimano said Powdr Inc, the resort’s parent company, has invested more than $50 milllion in the last four years alone.
To boost the resort’s year-round appeal, he said they’ve expanded and upgraded their mountain biking infrastructure. And it’s paying off: Six years ago, Solimano said they had 2,000 riders a year. This year, there were 37,000, and he said the resort has doubled its summer employees.
"That just adds a vibrancy to the community,” Solimano said. “And now you see businesses opening up and down the road, and people are taking care of their properties, and property values start going up, and I think everybody is starting to feel good. And amazingly enough, I just met my first person who bought a condo here that mountain bikes and doesn’t even actually ski. Never would have thought you’d hear that in Killington.”
Up the road from Solimano's office is the new $29-plus million base lodge currently under construction. He said it's on schedule, and while it'll make hosting this year's World Cup a headache, he added: "It'll be worth it in the end."
If all goes according to plan, the new lodge will be open in time for next year’s World Cup.
Hosting the annual event is actually a money loser for the resort: Solimano said it costs about $3 million to put on. Revenues and sponsorships cover about two-thirds of that, but the last $1 million is taken as a loss.
“It’s hard to justify, purely financially,” Solimano admitted. “It's sort of like building a brand — it’s hard to put exact dollars on it.”
But it’s a marketing effort that appears to be working. According to Solimano, skier visits over the last four years are up 15%.
Ken Jones, an economic research analyst with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the World Cup packs a big economic punch. Data from the last two Novembers show sales receipts in and around Killington were up by nearly $750,000.
The overall statewide impact is even larger, according to Jones.
“I now estimate that the World Cup itself probably leads to $2 to 2.5 million worth of spending,” he said.
He added that for a single weekend, in a specific part of the state, during one of the slowest months for tourism, that’s good news.
“So every time we can get more people to come for whatever reason, that builds the foundation for those people to recognize that Vermont has something to value," Jones said. "So in addition to the direct impact of tourism itself, we recognize that providing positive experiences for more and more people can only be a good thing for Vermont.”
Correction 8:45 a.m. Nov. 25: A photo caption was updated to reflect the correct spelling of Jean Pierre DeFrancesco-Sias’ name as well as his title.